Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Shot at Chitose Sensei's abilities.

Although its quality is far from fantastic, this old video features short shots of Tsuyoshi Chitose Sensei - Founder of Chito Ryu Karate with his student Kaicho Yamamoto - Founder of Yoshukai Karate demonstrating in the late 60's.



Appreciate the Power of Chitose Sensei. You have here a good example of what Chi (KI in Japanese) is about...


I wish we would still practice and teach throws in this way. Emphasis on tournaments, and the rules edicted to protect fighters against potentially serious injuries has taken its toll on the original Okinawan Karate. Which is probably why we have seen for the last 10 years such an interest in Mixed Martial Arts.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

CHOUN NO KOUN Kata

"KOUN" is Okinawan for the Japanese "BO" - Long Staff
In these videos a Sensei of the International Okinawa Kobudo Association demonstrates the Kata
Choun No Koun



There obviously are common moves between this version and our Yoshukai version.

The next video is the Bunkai - explanation of the various moves of the Kata.



It is interesting here also to compare the moves between the 2 versions.
In the Yoshukai version, we perform huge circular moves twice during the kata, which are done to sweep the legs of the opponent. Here they are used to push the opponent's bo away.

You will also find in this video some of the origin of our Bo tai Bo kata.
Which makes me wonder, considering that in this version of Choun no Koun there is a jump as we have in our Bo tai Bo # 3, could it be that we lost the jump in Choun no Koun ?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Commitment to the Group.

Once upon a time there was a famine  in Southern India, and in one particular village the poor had it very bad. 

The local Brahmin placed a small tank in the middle of the village and covered it with a piece of  wet fabric to keep it cool. He asked all the rich people of the village to bring a pot of milk during the day and pour it into the tank. In the evening he would call all the poor together and share the content of the tank between them. This would ensure that every one would have at least a little milk to drink.

All agreed to this. But in the evening, when the Brahmin called the poor and uncovered the tank, he found nothing in there but water. Each rich folk had thought : "The other rich folk will put in milk, so my pot of water won't make any difference" There was no milk given at all.

It is very easy  in a group to rely on others... 

If I am part of a Club, of a Martial Art Organization (Kai)  or of a Sangha, it is my responsibility to support it. When a tournament, a seminar, a class, a sesshin is organized, it is my responsibility to attend.

It is very easy to think that all the others will attend, and that because there are lots of them my being here or not won't make any difference. If everyone thinks and acts this way, the group goes down the drain.



YOSHUKAI Karate  - November 2008 - American, Japanese, German and French members attend a class presided by our Grand Master Kaicho Yamamoto (Center with Red Tie)

EVERY member of the group is fully responsible to put in his FULL quota of milk.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bodhidarma's Exercizes

In a previous post I was writing :

Proper meditation practice should incorporate exercises promoting Blood and Chi circulation, while at the same time harmonizing the Shen. (Japanese Shin / Heart-Mind)

Conversely, proper Martial Art practice should incorporate Spiritual discipline to avoid mindless emphasis on Physical accomplishment - but this is an other story...


Is is said that after Bodhidharma died, a traveler met him in the mountains, and informed the monks of the Shaolin Monastery about this.

When they opened his tomb, they did not find him, but instead found a sealed box containing 2 sutras : Yi Jin Jing, and Xi Sui Jing.
Jing, sometimes written Ching, is a book on a subject of great cultural of importance, a classic, Buddhist Sutra qualify as Jing. The great Chinese classics are the I Ching and Tao Te Ching.

Yi Jin Jing is about strengthening tendons and muscles;
Xi Sui Jing aims at cleaning up the bone marrow - and brain.

These exercises correspond to the 2 complementary goals above.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Master and the Angry Dog - Part One

The following happened in 1987 in Seattle. Nakamura Taizaburo Sensei, founder of Nakamura Ryu of Batto-ho, and Head of the Toyama Ryu Federation, had been invited to participate in the Cherry Blossom Festival, and on this occasion had gotten in touch with the local Kendo organization and spent most of his spare time with them.

This story, and other ones were posted on a website at the occasion of the death of Nakamura Sensei in 2003. You can read the other posts by clicking here


Nakamura Sensei’s direct words to us were that he had had an enlightenment experience, and renounced the use of swords to hurt others. He said that’s why he had named his system “Happogiri Batto- Do” and not “Batto-Jutsu”.... because he intended that it should only be used to cultivate the “Katsujin-Ken” and never again the “Satsujin- Ken” as in his previous, deeply mistaken, period.


Once when we pulled up near the door of the Seattle Center House to unload all our makiwara, etc, Nakamura Sensei climbed down from Murosako Sensei’s van right into the face of a tiny, snarling and terrified high strung little dog who had been locked by himself in another vehicle right next to us. The window was open enough that the little dog could get his nose --AND TEETH-- right out there, and boy was he barking, yipping, growling, and carrying on, defending his territory!

With a big chuckle of delight, Nakamura Sensei walked right up and stuck his hand right in the top of the window and started scratching and petting that dog’s head! The dog instantly began sobbing and squeaking and LICKING Nakamura Sensei’s hand! I’m not making this up... I was climbing out of the van right behind him, and saw the whole thing!



Friday, December 11, 2009

Seiuchin Kata

The origin of Seiuchin Kata is lost in time. One story credits Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1915) who traveled from Okinawa to China and studied Chinese Kempo for its creation. Others credit Chojun Miyagi (1887-1953), founder of Goju Ryu, for its creation.


Seiuchin translates as the “War Kata” or “Calm Within the Storm." Here is a powerful performance by Yoshukai Karate Shihan Mike Leverett.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

ZANSHIN, HEIJOSHIN, FUDOSHIN, MUSHIN

Zanshin, Fudoshin, Heijoshin, Mushin are words used to describe several states of mind significant in Martial Arts because of their value in developing actual combat effectiveness.

The common denominator to these words is SHIN. In Chinese Medicine, the Heart is the location of the Mind. I suppose this is the reason why the two most common translations for Shin are Mind and Heart.

Mushin is a state of mind also described in Zen. It is in fact often described as the goal (or the mean) of Zen. As I indicated in an earlier post, I intend in this blog for to spend time studying Mushin in the contexts of Budo and Zen.

In this first post, I would like to describe my own experience or understanding of these states in relation to Martial Arts. This is only my own experience, and as such it is questionable and should be questioned.


ZANSHIN : the remaining or continuous mind - an all-encompassing awareness, in which the practitioner is ready for anything, at any time. Zanshin is the easier part. A great practitioner always displays it – Awareness. The more you train, the more you learn how to focus and detect potential threats. At the end of a Iai waza, you return to the place you started from in a Zanshin state of mind. All your senses are alert, nothing is focused, you thrive to be aware of everything around you. Zanshin does not mean tunnel vision focus.
I was once competing in a tournament demonstrating Sho no Koun Bo (Long Staff) kata. The kata included a long and powerful jab before a 180 degrees turn. As I was going to jab, a, child from the crowd of spectators ran across the ring. I saw the child without having to look in his direction and stopped my Bo a few inches from him.This is Zanshin.

There is nothing special about Zanshin, anyone may train his Zanshin, the more you train, the better you become, unless maybe you've got ADD, (which I believe is only a sorry excuse)

FUDOSHIN : immovable mind - a state of equanimity or imperturbability. I believe this is also what Shimabukuro Sensei calls HEIJOSHIN in his book Flashing Steel : Heijoshin (or peace of mind) is the by-product of a person’s complete inner being. It can only be achieved by refining the whole inner essence and this can only be accomplished if one’s intellect, emotions, and character are developed in balance. Heijoshin literally translated means constant stable spirit. Such a translation hardly does it justice...

To achieve heijoshin as a martial artist requires a lifestyle of discipline, effort, sacrifice and commitment. Such a commitment to developing excellence of character is what sets the martial artist apart from most people in a confused and unhappy society. As we discover, the true nature of martial arts training leads us to a fuller understanding of the nature of life itself. With this understanding comes peace of mind and true and lasting happiness.


Only circumstances will let us know how good our Fudoshin is, once again it depends on training, but Fudoshin requires a higher level of training than Zanshin, I believe it requires, on top of intellectual and emotional concentration, developing one's acceptance of others and of circumstances.

It could also be that a key is to become aware of a deeper level of connection between oneself and others .

MUSHIN :literally "no mind" – sometimes defined as the spontaneity which allows immediate action without conscious thought.
I only experienced Mushin very few times. I actually used my martial abilities very few times in my life. Once I was walking in Paris with my younger sister. A group of obnoxious teenagers surrounded us. One of them was more vocal and threatening than the others. As he tried to reach for my sister's head, I kicked him. He was not hurt, but realized we might not be such easy targets as he had expected. But the kick happened without even thinking about it. It was almost as if I did not kick him, but as if the kick just came through me. This is Mushin.

I also experienced Mushin practicing a Ju Jitsu Kata with a partner I had been practicing for a long time with. We performed the kata, without trying harder than usual, and when it was over we thought "WOW, that was cool "; we could not believe how well it had been.Somehow, it was perfect (at least that's what we felt like)

Mushin is something you are not aware of at the time. You cannot speak about it when it happens, only after the fact do you realize that something close to perfect and bigger than you happened through you. When you realize how great it was, it's over, you are not in Mushin anymore.

One can experience Mushin in other areas such as playing music, painting, or dancing. It is a sort of trance-like situation: while you practice, you are not aware of yourself. "IT" just flows through you. Once you become aware of it, it is gone.

In order to experience Mushin in a way or an other, is is probably much better to be very fluent in that way. If one is gifted (but where does the gift come from ? ...), it might be possible to experience Mushin with little training, unfortunately, this is not my case.


The danger with Mushin is to let everything and anything happen as it flows through you. Terrible things can be committed by individuals who later explain and believe that they were not really responsible as they were in a trance like sort of state of mind when they acted...

This has to be considered...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Iai seminar with Carl Long Sensei

Our next Iai seminar with Long Sensei will be held at the Big Green Drum Dojo in Pensacola, FL on March 5, 6 & 7, 2010.

Please put these dates on your calendar and make plans to attend. No matter how talented you are, Seminars with Long Sensei are always an amazing opportunity to learn something new, or to refine your practice.

Monday, November 23, 2009

APOLOGIES

In my precedent post I quoted an interview of Nakamura Sensei - in which he explained his distrust of a particular way to support a sword blade with the open hand. To illustrate his point he was explaining how a Japanese Master of Kenjutsu had in this way cut his fingers when he assassinated a political opponent in 1935.

I want to make it very clear here, that I am absolutely not approving of the use of Martial Arts in general, and swordsmanship in particular, to hurt or kill other sentient beings.

Some of the posts on this blog are very technical with a pedagogical content, and mostly intended for actual students of one way.
As a teacher I often use historical anecdotes or even jokes to help students memorize details of techniques and moves.

Some of my readers, not involved in Martial Arts might have from this post inferred that I approve of assassination, or of using sword to kill other sentient beings. This is not the case, and if I mislead you in that direction, I apologize for it.

My goal is to reconcile Buddhism and Martial Arts to get past the apparent contradiction between the ideal of compassion and violence. I believe in the potential of Martial Arts to transform ourselves, providing they are skilfully taught and practiced, as was for example Karate in the traditional society of Okinawa at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the following weeks, I intend to post on MUSHIN - commonly translated as "Empty Mind" - a concept or state at the heart of Zen and Budo Practices.

MUSHIN has sometimes been used as a justification for terrible actions by Japanese warriors and soldiers during the first half of the 20th century.

It is important for students of the Ways to realize what Mushin really means.



Saturday, November 21, 2009

Iwanami - spare your fingers...


Nakamura Taizaburo was born in 1912. He began his study of kendo at the age of 15; when he joined the Imperial Army in 1932 he was already 3rd dan in both kendo and judo. After teaching kendo to the officers and noncommissioned officers of his regiment, Nakamura sensei was assigned to a boy's military academy as a fencing instructor; during this time he also studied Omori Ryu iaido. Later, Nakamura sensei was selected to attend the Army Toyama Academy where he became an instructor of actual-combat swordsmanship, bayonet, and knife fighting. He was dispatched to Manchuria as a "special fencing teacher" and instructed members of the select Yamashita Special Attack Force.

He founded the All Japan Toyama Ryu Iaido Federation and has been the Senior Master of Toyama Ryu until his death in 2003. In 1952 he founded the Nakamura Ryu.

In this excerpt from Thoughts on Iaido published by Dragon Tsunami Sensei Nakamura makes an interesting (and gruesome) point about the actual use of a waza similar to our MJER Iwanami

There are techniques in which the palm of the left hand is placed along the back ridge of the blade. These are ineffective and are a waste of time and dangerous. A case in point is that of Lieutenant Colonel Aizawa who cut his fingers employing this type of technique. Aizawa once had been a kenjutsu teacher at the former Army Toyama Academy and was an expert in kendo and bayonet fencing. In 1935, using his western model service saber, he assassinated the head of the Military Affairs Bureau, Major General Nagata (this action preceded the February 26 Revolt of 1936). After failing to kill the general with three cuts, Aizawa placed his left palm on the back of his sword at the mid point, assumed a bayonet fencing "half-right stance" and thrust strongly with his right hand, skewering the general completely through from back to front. This technique is very similar to the All Japan Iaido Federation's fifth form called "kissaki kaeshi" and Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu's "Iwanami". Aizawa cut all four fingers of his left hand to the bone. He later stated, "As a Toyama Academy fencing instructor, I was disappointed and embarrassed that I was unable to cleave the general in two with one stroke."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meditation could help Attention Disorders

Giuseppe Pagnoni, PhD, Emory assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and co-workers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine changes in blood flow in the brain when people meditating were interrupted by stimuli designed to mimic the appearance of spontaneous thoughts. The study shows that experienced Zen meditators can clear their minds of distractions more quickly than novices.

The study realized in 2008 compared 12 people from the Atlanta area with more than three years of daily practice in Zen meditation with 12 others who had never practiced meditation.

While having their brains scanned, the subjects were asked to focus on their breathing. Every once in a while, they had to distinguish a real word from a nonsense word presented at random intervals on a computer screen and, having done that, promptly “let go” of the just processed stimulus by refocusing on their breath.

The authors found that differences in brain activity between experienced meditators and novices after interruption could be seen in a set of well defined areas of the brain.

After being interrupted by a word-recognition task, experienced meditators’ brains returned faster to their pre-interruption condition. This suggests that the regular practice of meditation may enhance the capacity to limit the influence of distracting thoughts. This skill could be important in conditions such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder and major depression, characterized by excessive rumination or an abnormal production of task-unrelated thoughts.


Read an abstract of the study

Read the full article (Good luck...)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Meditation 'eases heart disease'

According to the results of a first-ever study presented during the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, FL, on Nov.16, 2009, patients with coronary heart disease who practiced Meditation had nearly 50 percent lower rates of heart attack, stroke, and death compared to nonmeditating patients.

The nine-year study followed 201 African American men and women, average age 59 years, with narrowing of arteries in their hearts who were randomly assigned to either practice the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique or to participate in a control group which received health education classes in traditional risk factors, including dietary modification and exercise.

All participants continued standard medications and other usual medical care.

The study found:

  • A 47 percent reduction in the combination of death, heart attacks, and strokes in the participants
  • Significant reduction in blood pressure.
  • Significant reductions in psychological stress in the high-stress subgroup


Monday, November 16, 2009

Yoshukai Iaido

As we were enjoying lasagna and sampling various beverages after the Dothan Tournament, I asked Grand Master Kaicho Yamamoto if he had learned our Iai waza from Dr Chitose.

He did not. Sensei Yamamoto studied Niten Ichi Ryu, a school of kenjutsu founded by the legendary Miyamoto Musashi during the first half of the 17th century. For what I understood of our conversation, Master Yamamoto could not study very long because his instructor died.

Now, if you research Niten Ichi Ryu, you will hardly find any mention of Iai Jutsu, but of Kenjutsu only. I did not get the opportunity to discuss that with Kaicho. It could simply be that Niten Ichi Ryu being a Koryu, the information available is not very reliable, and that some Iai moves are part of it's curriculum, after all, before you get to hack your opponents right and left, you have to draw your sword out of the saya !

Friday, November 13, 2009

Buddhism and Science


The Teachings of the Buddha are not to be taken as the ultimate truth, the Truth comes from within, The Buddha himself insisted that no one should accept his teachings on faith without verifying for themselves their validity.

I believe this is the reason why Buddhism and Science are not exclusive of each other. Although there are differences in the path followed by the scientist and the Buddhist, systematic doubt is a common tool used by these 2 disciplines.


The Kalama Sutra relates how the Kalamas of the town of Kesaputta in Northern India , who did not know what to think of different doctrines taught by the various philosophers and teachers visiting their town, asked the Buddha questions about them and their teachings.

Here is the relevant portion of the text:

The Buddha once visited a small town called Kesaputta in the kingdom of Kosala. The inhabitants of this town were known by the common name Kalama. When they heard that the Buddha was in their town, the Kalamas paid him a visit, and told him:

"Sir, there are some recluses and brahmanas who visit Kesaputta. They explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others' doctrines. Then come other recluses and brahmanas, and they, too, in their turn, explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others' doctrines. But, for us, Sir, we have always doubt and perplexity as to who among these venerable recluses and brahmanas spoke the truth, and who spoke falsehood."

"Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kalamas,

do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay.

Be not led by the authority of religious texts,

not by mere logic or inference,

nor by considering appearances,

nor by the delight in speculative opinions,

nor by seeming possibilities,

nor by the idea: 'this is our teacher'.


BUddhism and Science

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Try Tai Chi for Knee Arthritis

Tai chi may help to reduce pain and improve physical function in people with knee arthritis, according to the results of a study published in the November 2009 issue of Arthritis Care and Research. Tai chi is a form of Chinese martial arts that uses slow rhythmic movements to encourage mental relaxation and improve balance. Now it seems that this traditional discipline is a reasonable treatment for older adults with arthritis of the knee.

Researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Mass. conducted a trial of 40 older adults with an average age of 65 years who had symptomatic arthritis of the knee. Study participants were randomly assigned to either 60 minutes of tai chi or twice-weekly sessions of attention control focused on wellness education and stretching for a period of 12 weeks. The knee arthritis patients who were assigned to the tai chi group reported significantly greater improvement in their arthritis pain. They also reported significantly greater improvements in physical function, depression, and health-related quality of life.

Tai chi is a mind-body approach which seems to be effective in treating arthritis-related knee pain in older adults who are otherwise healthy. The study authors point out that tai chi meets all of the current exercise recommendations for arthritis of the knee, including range-of-motion and flexibility exercises, muscle conditioning, and aerobic training. It may even be that the mental discipline of tai chi can help to minimize the negative effects of chronic arthritis by improving psychological sense of well-being.

Article by June Chen, MD in HealthandAge.com

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Patience...

The original Chinese meaning of the Kanji NIN (as in Ninja) means patience, endurance. In Japan NIN evolved into shinobi, meaning to hide, to sneak in...


Three men laid the foundations for modern Japan and were to rule in succession :

  • Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), warlord of the province of Owari,

  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), one of his generals,

  • Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), Nobunaga's junior ally.

Nobunaga, known for his cruelty, almost unified Japan but was betrayed by one of his lieutenants and slained.

Hideyoshi, known for his impetuosity, finally unified Japan and brought the end of the Civil War Era. When all Japan was unified and no enemy could be found, he tried and failed to conquer China. He died from old age in 1598 without ever becoming Shogun.

When Nobunaga was slained, Ieyasu, known for his patience, decided not dispute about Hideyoshi's claim for regency and kept the position of No.2 in Japan. When Hideyoshi died, Ieyasu vanquished his successor at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600. He got the title of Shogun in 1603, established his Shogunate in Edo, known as Tokyo today, and his dynasty ruled until 1867...

The following tale is told about these three extraordinary rulers :

There was a little bird who wouldn't sing. Nobunaga said, “little bird, if you don't sing, I'll kill you." Hideyoshi said, “little bird, if you don't sing, I'll make you sing." Tokugawa said, “little bird, if you don't sing, I'll wait for you to sing."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Yoshukai Karate 30th Anniversary Tournament

The tournament went very well. Great competition, forms, weapons, sparring. It was attended by International visitors from Japan, Germany and Canada.


Our Grand Master Kaicho Yamamoto had brought with him a group young Japanese who did very well at the competition, and impressed everyone with their excellent manners and politeness.
Kaicho was presented with a Cowboy hat by the Texas Yoshukai group of Mr Byron Taylor. He seemed to enjoy it thoroughly...

A group of Canadians from British Columbia was lead by their Sensei Greg Turnbull who won the Grand Champion competition with a very impressive kata. His demonstration was an example for us all. Not only was he fast, he was also very stable and his stances very strong.


It is unusual to find someone who can display speed and stability. It is a very difficult thing to master. A lot of it is about trying to place the weight on the front of the foot (K1 point) and grabbing the ground with the toes. Easier said than done, years of attention are needed to develop this.


Cody Ray and I performed Kendo Kata in its entirety - Odachi and Kodachi part. You could have heard a pin drop in the civic center. Later that evening during the party that followed this event, I had comments about the relief people felt when we completed it : "Nobody was hurt..."


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wide is the Heaven of Boundless Samadhi,

Wide is the heaven of Boundless Samadhi, Radiant the full moon of the fourfold wisdom.

These two lines taken from The song of Meditation by Hakuin, express enlightenment and the perfection of the fourfold vision.

The word "Samadhi" is Sanskrit, and can be translated as "Right thought" or also "Evenness".
The meaning being a state where the mond is one and undisturbed, with no distracting thought.

The Samadhi of Repose we reach through sitting in Zazen.

Then we also have the Samadhi of Action.


There are times when you practice a Kata - a FORM - and reach that state where your mind and body are totally immersed. I do not perform the form, the form flows through me At that time, there is no me, there is no form, IT is just happening.

What is this IT that is happening ? The only thing I can say is that as soon as I am conscious and aware of IT, IT is gone. There is subject and object again, and IT is lost.

How do we get there ? Practice, practice, practice.

Once the form is known through your body and does not require any thought, it begins flowing through you. This is when your mind start playing tricks on you. You perform the form alright, but thoughts arise about anything, bills to pay, things to say...

Here are here a few tricks : Focus on your breath - Kokyu. In the case of the Short Tai Chi Form, which was designed with emphasis on breathing, make sure you breath In when your feet come together, Out when they get apart.


And focus on your feet. Put your weight on the front of the feet. Ideally the weight should be over K1, the 1st acupuncture point of the Kidney meridian, located on the sole of the foot, approximately one inch behind the joint between the 2nd and 3rd toes. You need to walk with little weight on your heels, as if one could slide a sheet of cigarette paper between the floor and your heel. Actually, your heel can be on the floor, but very little pressure should be on your heel bone. In order to do so, you will have to slightly bend your knees, and grab the floor with your toes.


It sounds easy to do, it is not. Just try it ! It is worth it. When it happens, you will always remember.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SCOREKEEPERS needed

We need 20 Volunteers Score Keepers help to keep score at the Yoshukai Karate Tournament held next Saturday, October 31st at the Dothan Civic Center.

Scorekeepers will get into the tournament free, a tournament T-shirt and we will feed you lunch.

If you are interested please let me know, and come to the Yoshukai Karate Dojo this Thursday October 29th at 6:00 p.m. for a meeting during which the process will be explained to you.

We will also go over the scorekeeping again Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m.

Monday, October 26, 2009

MJER Seminar in Pensacola

This week end seminar in Pensacola was a great success, Ron and I arrived Friday and we spent the evening practicing Shoden Waza. Fred and Cody joined us Saturday, we spent the whole day cutting mats under supervision of Carl Long Sensei.

We learned a lot !

Sunday morning Sensei taught us some execises to practice Ono Ha Itto Ryu stances, and we went through all technics of Okuden Tachi waza and Okuden Suwari waza...Way above my head, nevertheless very interesting as some of the suwari waza explain other waza of the shoden and batto ho.

It will also be a good source of inspiration to practice our basics (thinking of Sets of various Nukitsuke after the Moniri pattern, forward, backward...)

Cody and I demonstrated our Kendo Kata in front of the whole group of participants who enjoyed it. A good warming up before next week end Yoshukai tournament in Dothan.

Went home Sunday afternoon, tired with lots of knowledge we now need to put into application...
I will soon publish my notes on this matter, mostly about Tameshigiri.

Thank you to Long Sensei for his precious instruction and to Patty Sensei and all the other members of the Big Green Drum Martial Arts Center who helped make this event a very fruitful and friendly one.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Selecting a Katana for Japanese Swordsmanship - Weight and Balance

Everyone seems to have a different opinion on the benefits of heavy and light katana. Light katana can feel unsubstantial, but can make long practice sessions easier, specially if you have developed elbow problems. A heavy katana can help build up strength and may feel more like a Shinken.
I do not believe however, that Iaido is meant to build up strength. If you really want to build up strength, use a heavy Suburito (Super heavy Boken) to practice repetitive cuts (Suburi).

Balance should be considered as well as weight. Your sword will feel heavier if it has a forward balance.

Balance is the measure of the balance point of an iaito in inches from the tsuba (guard). A larger balance point with a heavy blade will make the iaito feel very heavy. A heavy tsuba will make an iaito heavier, and improve the balance. A light tsuba will make the iaito feel more tip heavy and more like a shinken.

There are various ways to determine the balance point of a Sword. Below is an illustration of the unusual Scythian way to simultaneously determine the balance of 2 scimitars.




Friday, October 23, 2009

The Search for the Mighty Pillow

Last night my dog Mugen escaped to go visit with his friends...
Awaken early this morning by the chickens squaking at him I got up to let him back into the house, then decided to get back to sleep.

I got in the bed, and there, Rage and Despair ! Could not find my pillow.

I looked everywhere around, under the blanket, on the floor around the bed. I just could not find it!

Puzzled by this disappearance, trying to think about what could have happened, I realized it was just there lying behind my head.

For all this time I had been searching it far from me, even out of the bed, I had not let my neck relax and was unable to feel it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tai Chi and Chi Gong Class at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center

I will teach a Tai Chi and Qi Gong class on Saturday, October 17 at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center from 11:00 to 12:30.

It is said that when the first Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma came from India to China, he taught 2 sets of Qi Gong exercises to enhance the monks physical (Yi Jin Jing) as well as spiritual (Xi Sui Jing) abilities.

Qi Gong literally mean Energy exercises. They are designed to improve generation and transportation of energy – physical as well as mental - within us. You could say in fact that any kind of exercise is a Chi Gong. Chinese people practice many different ones. Some are aimed at relaxation, some at developing strength or speed, some at healing physical or psychological ailments.

Tai chi is a form of Qi Gong that uses martial arts moves performed at very low speed to also enhance flexibility and balance.

During this Saturday class, we will practice moves from the Yi Jin Jing taught by Bodhidharma, breathing exercises and we will begin to study the short Tai Chi form of my 4 Winds system, which main purpose is coordination of breathing with body movement.


The class is free and open to everybody from the age of 7 to 87. Bring friends and family. Wear Natural fiber clothing, short or long pants and T-shirt, no shoes are necessary.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nihon Ju Jitsu

I could not resist posting this video. I had the honor and pleasure to train under Master Rolland Hernaez, Hanshi, founder of Nihon Tai Jitsu, and am myself a 2nd degree Black Belt in this Art.


I hope you enjoy the great variety of throws (Nage waza) and joint manipulations (Kansetsu waza) displayed in this video. Reminds me of my 30's when I would bounce back from the mat as if I were made of rubber....

Because Nihon Tai Jitsu is strictly about Self Defense, numerous techniques are aimed at very sensitive parts of the body (eyes, throat, groin, spine and joints...) which are potentially dangerous. No Fighting competition are organized, only technical challenges during which competitors are judged based on prearranged self defense demonstrations.

The drawback of such a situation is sometimes a lack of realism in the use of certain unusual waza, and the fact that students may not be used to being actually hit. This is why the study of a full contact art such as Yoshukai Karate combined with Tradidional Ju Jitsu is an excellent mix. Full contact fighting provides a real experience of how a punch or kick can really hurt, the acceptance of this risk, and the DEEP willingness to avoid them by only using safe waza that minimize that risk for ourselves.
On another Hand, Nihon Tai Jitsu provides a variety of wazas and target usually not used in Karate, which may enable a lighter person to get out much safely out of situation where they are attacked by more powerful individuals. (It also looks really cool !)

What did you say ? This is what MMA has been doing for several years ?

Well, not exactly, for one thing, as MMA is mostly focused toward competition, a number of techniques used by Traditional Ju Jitsu are also banned. Then MMA has usually lost contact with the Traditional Part essential to Karate or Ju Jitsu. Fighting is not the ultimate goal, but a way to achieve something else...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Go no Sen, Sen no Sen.


"And yet, if there is a hairbreadth of deviation, it is like the gap between Heaven and Earth, if the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion"

In the "Hsin Hsin Ming" ("Trust in Mind") a poem from the 6th century China when Zen or Ch’an was beginning to emerge as a separate tradition, the Chinese Ancestor Seng-ts’an, or Kanshi Sosan writes :

"The Great Way is not difficult, for those who have no preferences. When freed from grasping and aversion, it reveals itself clearly and undisguised. A hair’s breadth difference, and heaven and earth are set apart. If you want it to appear, have no opinions for or against. The duality of like and dislike is the disease of the mind."

Coincidence ? I doubt it. At the end of his book, Shoshin Nagamine writes again :

I have pursued the study of Karate in an attempt to bring karate and Zen together as one.This has been a life-long effort, and one that can never be fully realized by anyone person.

Zen Masters often have written about or for Martial Arts, but less Martial Art Masters wrote about Zen.

One thing that attracted me so much to Zen is its Practical aspect. Zen is something you TRAIN in. There is nothing wrong about trying to understand some aspects of it, however, if this is your only practice, you might as well go home, you won't do anything good for yourself. But this is not clear from the outside. I believe most people consider Zen as a very intellectual and possibly bizarre philosophical or religious system. This is at least how they look at it in France.


The records we have from Martial Art Masters seldom go back more than 150 years. These masters were not living in the dark ages, but in a preindustrial age and their world was not too different from ours.

For this reason, I believe their words are easier to understand than those of people writing from 800 years or more ago. In any case, they will be easier to understand for students of Martial Arts. I know of no anthology of what Budo Masters had to say about Zen. I believe such a collection could be helpful.


So I decided to devote some time to research what Budo masters wrote about Zen. If you have information to share on this subject, or on a methodology I could follow, your help will be welcomed.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thich Nhat Hanh

I do not usually meddle in politics, and I may not always agree with Thitch Nhat Hanh's writings.
Still, I hate for powerful tyrants to oppress little guys; the old David and Goliath's story I guess... All tyrants intuitively know the truth of it - the Tao at work...

So here I am, as we say where I come from "une fois n'est pas coutume" some political stuff, this is much more important than whatever the present Gouvernment might or might not change in our country, this really is about individual and religious freedom.

Communist Vietnam's sometimes edgy relationship with religious freedom is being tested in a dispute over a monastery inhabited by disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the world's most famous Zen masters. For four years, the Buddhist monks and nuns at Bat Nha monastery in central Vietnam have been quietly meditating and studying the teachings of the 82-year-old Vietnamese sage who is perhaps the world's best-known living Buddhist after Tibet's Dalai Lama.

But lately, they are in a standoff that could test the patience of even the most enlightened.

Read more on this matter.

Tai Chi for Type 2 Diabetes

New research shows that taking up tai chi might benefit people with type 2 diabetes.

For six months, 31 people with type 2 diabetes practiced tai chi (a gentle Chinese martial art that combines movement, meditation and rhythmic breathing to improve the flow of chi). By the end of the study period, those who practiced tai chi showed greater improvements in glucose control than study participants who weren't involved in the tai chi program. What's more, members of the tai chi group appeared to have better social functioning and mental health, in addition to carrying out more self-care activities to manage their diabetes.

This comes as a relief... When I first started to teach in Dothan in 2001, one of my first and dear students was on Insulin. After several weeks (or month ?) of practice, she did not need the Insulin anymore, and attributed this to Tai Chi. Not wanting to get in trouble with the Medical Establishment around here, I never spoke about this. It seems that maybe, Tai Chi really helped her !

Get more details

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kendo Kata Sanbonme

On Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at about 8:30 p.m., after an approximate 22 years of practice, I finally figured out Kendo Kata Odachi : Sanbonme.

Sanbonme is the third in a series of 7 kata performed with a wooden sword (boken) between 2 partners : Shidachi, the good guy, attacked by Uchidachi, the bad guy - usually the teacher. Normally only the first 3 kata are studied before testing for Black Belt.

Sanbonme is a very difficult one to master because of the footwork. When in all other kata one always step to the front or back beginning with the front or back foot, in Sanbonme when Shidachi counter attacks him, Uchidachi steps back with his front foot first.

Until last night, it had never made sense, the natural way to step back seemed to be back foot first.

Because Shidachi's control of Uchidachi's attack was too forceful...

Instead of wacking Uchidachi's attack to the side, if Shidachi only slightly deviates Uchidachi's initial attack and takes control of the center, he is in good and very natural position to attack back, and Uchidachi then only can step back very quickly with his front foot - least he be poked between the ribs by Shidachi's sword that is now dangerously close...

The whole kata becomes effortless, and Shidachi totally controls Uchidachi at the tip of his sword.

We were able to figure this out because of the emphasis my students and I have put on our practice of Kenjutsu lately : Kendo Kata, Eishin Ryu Tachiuchi no Kurai, and mainly Ono Ha Itto Ryu Kenjutsu. The whole point are to not create any opening and occupy the center.

The details of the move I cannot explain in writing. They have to be practiced. The main points are that when practiced in this way, the waza is extremely efficient in terms of RESULT achieved : Uchidachi REALLY feels so much pressure that he has to step back, quickly, with his front foot. It is also extremely efficient in terms of ENERGY used. Shidachi effortlessly takes control of the game EFFORTLESSLY.

Beyond technical knowledge, this is what we should strive for : Efficiency : Achieve maximum result with minimum effort.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fearless Tea Party

In the Movie Fearless, the hero Huo Yuan Jia played by Jet Li is having tea with one of his adversary, Japanese Kendo Master Tanaka.

The following is a transcript of their conversation :

  • Mr Huo, according to what you say, you really don't know the nature of tea.

  • It's not that I don't know, I really don't want to know, because I don't care about evaluating teas. Tea is tea. But each tea has its own character and properties. What is the purpose of grading ? These many teas are grown in nature, all of them. Is there a discernable difference ?

  • Yes, once you learn this, you can tell the difference between the teas.

  • What you say may be right, but the way I see it, the tea does not judge itself. It's people that judge its grading. Different people chose different things. As for me, as far as I'm concerned, I just don't want to make any choice.

  • Is that so ?

  • Drinking tea is a mood, really. If you are in a good mood, the grade of tea doesn't matter.

  • I've never looked at it like that. I understand that there are many wushu fighting styles. Are you saying no style is greater than another ?

  • That's what I'm saying.

  • If that's true, I want to ask you, if wushu does not differ in any way, why then do we fight each other ?

  • I believe for all the styles of wushu, there is no single one that is superior. All of those who practice different styles of wushu, they would naturally have a different level of skill. Through competition, we can discover ourselves.

  • What you just said makes me have more respect for you. Enjoy

  • You first

This reminds me of one comment by Elliston Sensei during our last Sesshin at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. Speaking about the beauty of flowers, he reminded us that we are the ones believing that they are beautiful. The flower herself does not know that she is, this is us who think she is.

There is no such thing as beauty in itself, it is the interaction of the flower and the being seeing her. There is no such thing as a good or bad tea. A tea can't be good without someone to drink it, and appreciate it. And depending on the conditions, I will or will not appreciate that particular cup.

There is no Martial Art (Wushu in Chinese, Bujutsu in Japanese - 武術 ) style better than an other. The issue of a fight only depends of the conditions of the fight and fighters. Competition is about leaning where we stand.



Friday, July 31, 2009

Meditation and exercise - an Eastern Perspective

In Traditional Chinese Medicinen (TCM) Pain is an indication of Chi Stagnation.

Chi normally circulates within the body through lines called Meridians. (this concept is not accepted by Western Medicine - but this is not the point).

If a Meridian is blocked or interrupted (by a cut, an hematoma, a bent limb), the flow of Chi through it is interrupted. One speaks of "Chi Stagnation". The result is a poor irrigation of tissues and organs. Tis, in the short term results in local pain, and in the long term, if not addressed, internal organs might be damaged, and their functions hampered.

For TCM Blood nourishes the body, moistens body tissues and ensures that they do not dry out. Blood and Chi are interdependent and perform many of the same functions.
If Blood or Chi are blocked or stagnant in one area of the body, they will circulate through a different path, creating an imbalance between arteries for the Blood, and between meridians for Chi.


But Blood also contains Shen (Japanese Shin, Kokoro), or spirit, which balances the psyche.

If Blood or Chi are blocked, Shen cannot freely circulate inside and becomes restless. There can be no quieting of the mind.

Long periods of immobility tend to block the path of Blood and Chi. This is evidenced by the pain felt by the practitioner. In the long term, specially for beginners, this may make Shen restless, unbalance the Mind and disturb Meditation.

Which is why we practice Kinhin - walking meditation - between sitting periods.

Proper meditation practice should incorporate exercises promoting Blood and Chi circulation, while at the same time harmonizing the Shen.

Conversely, proper martial art practice should incorporate Spiritual discipline to avoid mindless emphasis on Physical accomplishment - but this is an other story...